Queen Gertrude, mother to Hamlet, is one of Shakespeare's most mysterious main characters. She can be seen as a foil to her son, since her character contrasts with his. Unlike Hamlet, Gertrude has no soliloquies reflecting on herself and her actions. She's driven by emotions rather than reflection. She's affectionate, impulsive, and strong-willed. Although Gertrude has many good qualities, she's not conspicuously intelligent.
Gertrude cannot be considered a wholly unfeeling and unsympathetic mother. She tried to protect Hamlet from Claudius's wrath in Act 4, Scene 1. When describing Hamlet's murder of Polonius to Claudius, Gertrude covers up Hamlet's indifferent attitude by saying that he cried afterwards. Gertrude's attempt to smooth over a difficult situation may indicate her realization that Claudius is not all that he seems to be, but does not answer why she could not see any fault in Claudius up to that point. Again, the answer lies in the fact that Gertrude does not possess the insight necessary to distinguish between sincerity and deception in those close to her. It is only at the very end, when Gertrude realizes that the cup contains poison that she faces the truth and the audience finally receives the pleasure of her complete understanding. Before this moment, the irony in this scene is that Gertrude actually offers the wine to her son to help and encourage him in his challenge against Laertes. At this point, she finally has to admit to herself that Claudius is guilty of murdering King Hamlet and of trying to murder her son. When she warns Hamlet not to drink the wine, she is again showing compassion for her son and her wish to protect him from danger.
Later, in Act 4, Scene 5, Gertrude states her guilt over Polonius's death, since she knew he was hiding behind the arras and did not alert Hamlet to his presence. She fears disaster at every turn and feels her guilt spilling out at will. Her countenance is dramatically changed from her previous joviality. Now, after Hamlet's revelation, she is fearful and suspicious where she was once happy and amiable.
To sum up, in Act 4 Gertrude is first defencive of Hamlet, her son, as she tries to protect him from danger. Then in Scene 5 she is shown as nervous and fearful, as she feels her guilt spilling out at will.
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